“It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth.” – W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming, a transformational leader in quality, management, and leadership, is often quoted as saying, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” but the full quote tells the opposite story. Not all things of value can be measured. Despite this, as data becomes bigger and more accessible, organizations are increasingly under pressure to show value in quantifiable terms. In an effort to get back to a single, magic number that proves they are generating a positive return on investment, the impact of rich experiences is at risk for being reduced to finite proxies for things that can be measured easily and consistently.

For example, measuring patient satisfaction with their healthcare often includes things like emergency department wait times. But is reducing wait times more important to patients than their provider taking the time necessary to fully understand their condition or concerns? A study by the Cleveland Clinic found that wait times in the emergency department were among the last things that patients were concerned with. Things that aren’t as easily measured rose to the top, including knowing the staff cared about them and the doctor explaining how to care for their condition at home.

On the other side of the exam table, the administrative burden induced by endless protocols and the need to document and measure almost every aspect of patient care is the largest contributor to physician burnout. This can lead to job dissatisfaction, depression, and has even been tied to adverse health outcomes for patients. Burnout has become such a pervasive issue that the World Health Organization recently classified it as a recognized medical condition. So much emphasis has been placed on process that the harder-to-measure outcomes we set out to achieve may take the backseat.

Sachin Jain wrote in a recent Forbes article that “checklists, standards, and protocols are not enough to ensure quality in our healthcare system.” In the article, he also discusses one of his mentors, Dr. Lori Tishler, and her approach to measuring quality at the Commonwealth Care Alliance. She recognizes that some metrics, like checklists to ensure a treatment protocol is followed, are valuable and can even save lives, but that’s not the whole story. Supplementing these metrics with patient surveys that ask questions like, “Did your doctor listen to you?,” provide a necessary layer to measuring the quality of care the organization is providing.

Why This Matters: 

As we march toward 2020, the impact of the campaigns and programs we create for our clients and their customers should consider both the measurable and immeasurable benefits they bring to the table. The patient and physician experience can rarely be boiled down to clicks in an email or the number of scripts written and should include softer measures of success. Things like, how patients feel about their interactions with providers, whether the information given to them was easy to understand, and whether our efforts are relieving the burden on healthcare providers or adding to it. Including both types of measurement can reveal a fuller picture of the successes achieved and opportunities to improve.

About the Author:

Erica is Director of Insights in Columbus, OH. She has profound interest in generating data-driven insights to improve health and business outcomes. With a PhD in epidemiology and 10 years’ experience in research, analytics, and product development, Erica loves to connect the dots to describe and predict trends in patient health and consumer behavior and elevate product positioning.